Keeping young people on the move can go a long way toward boosting physical fitness and developing motor skills, but there is a lot more to it than that, according to Andy Herbst, Meramec Valley R-III activities director.

Student athletes get better grades than average, miss fewer days of school and take part in more clubs and social groups, he said.

Herbst oversees the district conference and intramural sports programs that involve 489 students in grades six-12 who participate in 10 boys, girls and co-ed sports including baseball, basketball, cheerleading, cross country, dance, dodge ball, football, golf, hockey, soccer, track, volleyball and wrestling.

Meramec Valley students on the 2014 sports roster included 469 in high school and 189 in middle school.

An additional 546 students in kindergarten through eighth grade play intramural sports and 410 participate in Little League sports.

“The roster numbers don’t correlate exactly to the number of students because some students participate in more than one sport,” Herbst said.

To measure the value of the program to the students and the district, Herbst not only tracks how many wins the teams and individual athletes achieve, but the grades of individual students, the number of other extracurricular activities they participate in, how many days of school they miss and who goes on to play their sport in college.

It shouldn’t surprise anyone that the young athletes have higher grade point averages (GPA) and higher attendance records than the student body as a whole.

Total student GPA is 2.35 with a 95 percent attendance record, while the GPA of student athletes is 3.10 with a 97.7 percent attendance record.

Speaking at the May 21 end-of-year school board meeting, Herbst presented the intramural sports report, detailing the number of students who participate in team sports in the district’s five elementary schools, two middle schools and the high school.

“Our athletic program is successful,” Herbst said. “Year in and year out we are competitive, with our student athletes receiving state conference awards every year. Among our student athletes, nine seniors this year will play sports at the next level.”

Students who participate in sports learn teamwork, sportsmanship, leadership skills and a regard for rules, he noted. But the side benefits can be even greater, he said, enhancing physical conditioning, improving grades, social skills and school spirit.

Some seventh- and eighth-grade athletes work out at Pacific High after school weightlifting, running and study sessions where coaches volunteer their time.

“There are a ton of kids up here (at Pacific High) every day,” Herbst said.

It takes a total of 36 regular coaches, plus five volunteer coaches to man all the teams. Another 20 to 25 coaches work with the Little League teams.

Nine 2014 graduating senior students will participate in sports in college, three in baseball, two in football, one in girls basketball, one in girls soccer, one in softball and one in wrestling.